I used to clean my room meticulously, put everything in its place just so I could arrange a new reading area for me and my stuffed animals. I would anxiously lean my arm pillow in a corner, surround myself with my animals and dolls, and then crack the cover in a new chapter book for the first time, breathing in the smell of the pages. I had a distinctive new perception from each of my favorite series. A new Ramona book carried the aroma of young discovery and humor; Nancy Drew reeked of confidence and curiosity; The Babysitter’s Club sparked ideas and taught camaraderie. Long after my lights were supposed to be out at bedtime, I would sneak a book and a flashlight under my covers just to travel back to the world of the Sweet Valley Twins, Anne of Green Gables, or the Ingalls family.
Perhaps your own early reading memories may not be as idyllic as my own, but you can foster that kind of relationship with characters as early as you want to in your children.
Bedtime reading has long been a given in our house, but recently we’ve started using chapter books as part of our routine. Initially it began by listening to a book on CD, Dinosaurs Before Dark, the first in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. The appeal was quickly apparent as the kids began to request the CD every time they got in the car, whether we were driving to Abilene or driving to school. When I began to hear chapters in my dreams, I anxiously took them to the library and checked out the next 4 books in the series. Now the books have made their way to the bedside shelf, one chapter every night.
The benefit of reading chapter books is multi-faceted:
- The nature of stopping and allowing some think time between chapters fosters the ability to predict outcomes.
- They are heavy on words and light on pictures, facilitating a need for the child to create mental images independently in order to comprehend the story.
- The long-term relationships formed with characters gives children a reason to prefer certain books, a direction to go when they get to the library.
- Reading is the best way to learn the traits of a skilled writer – plot and character development, vocabulary, and mechanics.
If you need a place to start, I would suggest the Magic Tree House books for K – 3rd grade, boys and girls. Try to go in order, as Jack and Annie (main characters) are collecting clues in each book about the origin of the magic tree house. The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park is hugely popular among the young elementary girl set. Boys need a strong male character to identify with. If you have a son, please visit Getting Boys to Read – it’s a hugely relevant website. For boys, I would strongly recommend the Hank the Cowdog series by John Erikson.
And because I can’t stand the thought of children growing up without having read certain books, here are some other chapter book suggestions-
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (deals with divorce)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (deals with WWII)